The Netherlands and Canada have submitted a legal complaint to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to hold the Syrian regime accountable for violating the UN Convention Against Torture, marking a historic step towards justice for Syrian torture survivors. This is the first time ever that a legal case has been opened against the Syrian regime at an international court, despite more than a decade of horrific atrocities.
The move is an important step towards accountability for victims of torture after more than 12 years of gross human rights violations by the regime. It will also serve as a warning to every state contemplating reconciliation with the Syrian regime to think twice about shaking hands with Assad, amid recent efforts by Arab states to welcome him back onto the diplomatic stage.
Previous efforts to pursue accountability for Syrian regime crimes have focused on individual cases through trials at national courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
The case was submitted after diplomatic talks with the Syrian regime and more than six months of arbitration attempts failed.
The ICJ case will build on the results of years of evidence collected by the UN, international NGOs and Syrian human rights groups highlighting the systematic use of torture in detention as one of the regime’s tools to crush dissent.
The ICJ could issue legally-binding provisional measures to protect the rights of the parties, preserve evidence and prevent further crimes being committed pending the outcome of the case.
Ibrahim Olabi, a Syrian-British lawyer who has provided advice to the Netherlands over the case said:
“The submission of this case to the International Court of Justice is a historic breakthrough in the pursuit of justice for Syria. This step brings international judicial recognition to the suffering and injustice that millions of victims and survivors of the Syrian regime’s atrocities have endured for so long.”
Laila Kiki, Executive Director of The Syria Campaign said: “This long overdue case is a vital means of combatting impunity for the Syrian state’s widespread use of torture to terrorize civilians. It also sends an important signal to the international community that it has a responsibility to expand efforts to hold the Syrian regime accountable at a time when Arab normalization of Assad threatens to whitewash his record and further entrench impunity for war crimes.”
Diab Serrih, co-founder of the Association of Detainees and the Missing of Sednaya Prison said: “For more than 12 years the Syrian regime has been allowed to continue to systematically torture detainees on a mass scale with total impunity. The submission of this case to the International Court of Justice is a significant breakthrough for tens of thousands of survivors of torture in Syria whose suffering has been ignored by the world for too long and who can finally dare to hope for some form of accountability.”
In September 2020 the Netherlands announced it planned to hold Syria responsible under international law for gross human rights violations and specifically torture, under the UN Convention against Torture. In March 2021 Canada took the same step.
The measure is possible given that Syria, Canada and the Netherlands are party to the UN Convention against Torture.
To arrange an interview with legal experts, families of victims or survivors of torture and enforced disappearance please contact: [email protected]